Less than an hours walk outside the village of Dill there is a lone stone tower in a small copse of old maples. The tower is younger than the trees but double in height. The architecture of it is simplistic though eccentric in an understated way. From afar the tower looks to be slanted in one particular direction before correcting itself halfway up its height. Up close it looks quite straight and its only features of note are its tiny eyebrow windows and its peaked roof of wood shingles. The door to the tower is closed, its bottom portion and lintel above it coated in heavy soot as though a fire raged inside not long ago. There is no indication that the tower is burning now however even though the resident of the place, a certain wizard named Rizak, is sitting on a small wooden barrel several feet from the threshold, a refugee from his own home. He wears a long ultramarine robe, heavily scorched and torn with rather foppish frilly white cuffs at the ends of his sleeves. Over this he wears a simple iron breastplate with matching vambraces, both heavily dented and burned. Rizak is a man in his early thirties, vibrant in body and mind with long and thick tousled black hair on his head with a more conservative compliment on his face. On the ground beside him are wooden crates of various sizes and baskets containing glass bottles filled with potions and powders. Directly under his feet is a small wooden chest with ornate metalwork and a lock. Idle he sits, picking at the skin on his hands, looking anxious and bored. He does not seem to notice or be concerned about the tiny creature a few feet in front of him dancing with pronounced silent joy. The grey skinned creature is an imp not even a foot tall with long lizard like tail and a head consisting mostly of a mouth filled with long sharp teeth and two beady black eyes. The creature bares its teeth not in any menacing way but in an ecstatic smile which combined with its dancing brought to mind the antics of a court jester.
At this moment a group of three men and a women enter the copse through the dirt path and stand facing the tower with their eyes glued to the dancing imp. These individuals are a motley sort, culled from the sundry denizens of the village below. Although no claim of nobility could be had from any corner of Dill, a village whose chief export is pickles, this group of people in particular are of dull caste. Foremost is the woodcutter Hangmar, a burly sort with a head and beard of woolly blond hair. He wears no shirt, exposing his massive barrel chest and muscular arms which grip a heavy headed axe in their hands. Just behind Hangmar to his right is Grilly the midwife, a woman of only slightly less bulk than Hangmar. Her hair is dark and kept in a dishevelled bun. She wears a long tunic and ankle length breeches both made of the same course brown fabric which looks like it would itch. Around her neck is a neck cask about the size of a large potato. Grilly may have been three sheets to the wind most of the time but that didn’t stop her from bringing damn near every villager of Dill under the age of 30 from their mothers wombs into their arms. She knew her business as much as she knows her wines and spirits, that is to say quite a lot. To her right there is the hunter named Seems, a mysterious skinny fellow who only comes to town every other week to sell furs and other products from his hunts. All of his clothing, from jacket down to his trousers is made from leather prepared and stitched by his own hand. On his back he carries a crossbow and a small pack and several smaller pouches line his belt. To the left of these three is the young teen named Gendy who stood at an awkward distance from the rest. The boy is quite thin with long back hair tied behind his neck with the embarrassing beginnings of a moustache dabbling above his lips. His black tunic and trousers fit snug on his body as if they were passed down or his wardrobe hadn’t been updated in many moons. A thin leather belt wraps around his waist and on it a small dagger rests in a sheath.
Rizak pounced onto his feet upon seeing the arrival of the group and rushed forward to greet them. “Wonderful! Wonderful! You’ve done well young man. These three look stout and determined. Just the sort I need for this task.”
The three of them barely acknowledged Rizak as the dancing imp was simply too much too ignore.
“Oh dont mind the imp! That’s just Winkle, an old friend, completely harmless. I summoned him from one of the lesser planes when I was a young teen just learning my way around a spell book.
Hangmar steps forward and addresses Rizak, “This lad,” pointing at Gendy with the axe, “came into the Briny Stein telling of a wizard in the hills needing aid. Now I’m not much inclined to approach magic of any sort. Folks around here tell their children to stay away from these hills, rife with queer hermits as they are and the warnings are with good reason I reckon.”
“Aye,” says Seems in agreement.
“All for the better my good friends,” replies Rizak cheerfully. “A little bit of local superstition and fear is conducive to those who enjoy our privacy. There is nothing to fear at any rate I assure you though that is not to say that challenges and the potential for harm aren’t in the cards if you decide to help me.”
“And just what is it ye be needing assistance with?” Grilly asks.
“It’s quite simple. My home is suffering a bit of an infestation of sorts of which I am not able to address. My expertise in creature management is regrettably not as up to par with my skills in summoning.”
“Just what sort of creatures are we talking here,” Seems asks with the others nodding.
“Nothing too exotic… I opened a portal that entered onto a maritime region, albeit of an alien variety. The strange bird was one thing. That by itself I could have handled in time but the curious and most troublesome thing was that I couldn’t close the portal as I had opened it. It is as if there is a party or mechanism on the other side which is maintaining it for reasons unknown. A small horde of rather devilish crab-esque creatures poured through into my bedroom pinching at everything they could get their claws on including me.
“Ooh I love crab,” Grilly says
“They have delicious meat,” Seems concurs.
“They were quite vicious! Though they aren’t too much to handle even with their thick shells. A good whack with a club or a well aimed fireball will deal with them nicely. By all means make a feast of them once this is all settled. I must of killed fifty of the things before they stopped coming through and that’s when I tried unsuccessfully to close the portal. At that point I developed a notion that the lunatic bird flying around knocking things over was acting as an anchor for the other side. If I could return it back to the world from whence it came then maybe I could then close the portal.”
“Let me guess,” Hangmar says, “The bird got away?”
“You might say that. I was very close to apprehending it with a containment ward when I tripped and knocked into one of my shelves. A flask containing a potent hypnotic solution shattered and I was immediately put to sleep. I awoke to find my tower filled with creatures of numerous variety disturbing things and being very belligerent. I attempted dispatching them all but my energy waned in a way their numbers didn’t. I cut a path through the tower collecting what valuables as i could. Once I exited I sealed it with a strong warding spell so as to keep the intruders locked in. And now I look to you as my saviours.”
The three of them exchanged glances with each other as if conveying with their eyes their reservations about this dubious sounding quest.
“Crabs and a bird?” Seems says. “All you need is for us to clear your tower of crabs and an odd bird?”
“Yes to put it broadly. There is simply too many for me to handle on my own. Clear the tower of its infestation and eliminate whatever factor on the other side of the portal that is keeping it open.”
“Now wait a minute. You be wanting us to go through magic portals?” Hangmar says with scrunched face. “That’s wizards work. Its not our place to step into other worlds.”
“I don’t disagree with you. Hangmar is it? But I assure you that it is a simple matter. Just on the other side of the portal there will be an apparatus which is maintaining it on that side. One need only disturb it slightly and it will no longer be a burden to the effort of closing it entirely on this side.”
“How do you know its not some monstrous other world wizard that’s keeping it open on the other side?”
“Because I seen the apparatus myself. My theory considering the bird as an anchor was incorrect. I discovered that upon awakening. I awoke on the other side of the portal on a beach quite near the apparatus mentioned. I would have taken care of it then but I was in immediate danger from certain creatures and had to flee.”
More than one eyebrow became cocked by the wizards explanations and by now the collective mind had been made concerning this matter. It was Grilly who in the end stepped forward and voiced it.
“Its a shame about your home to be sure and it certainly is in the nature of the people of Dill to lend a helping hand when someone is in need but your problem extends far beyond helping someone roll a barrel of pickles down the road. I think I can speak for each man here that we aren’t inclined to risk life and limb for such a strange predicament as yours. I suggest you find help farther a field for this sort of thing.”
Hangmar and Seems nodded in agreement and turned to leave. As the wizard told his tale of woe Gendy listened with awe filled glee. Never before had he heard such a tale spun in a practical sort of way, one in which fantastical creatures and circumstances were not just the tools of horror stories told to children but were bonafide real concerns. Where the others stepped back he chose to step forward.
“I’ll help you Rizak!” he says with bold confidence.
Hangmar turned back as he was about to pass the first tree on the path and guffawed. “Don’t throw your life away on a fools errand boy. Your too young for such dangers and that knife of yours could barely butter toast let alone slay a mad crab!”
Gendy looked downward at the dagger on his belt feeling much less confident.
“Fear not my brave man,” Rizak says gripping Gendy by the shoulders. “I can equip you with a better weapon than that and a bit of defensive protection too if you’d like. You see all these crates here on the yard? Well though most contain potions and alchemical equipment others contain weapons and armour as I figured they might be needed even as I was escaping. And you’ll also have the pleasure of collecting the full reward upon your success.”
Rizak points back at the small chest and a spatial warping bolt of energy flies from his finger tip opening the chest for all to see. The chest is filled to the brim with large gold coins the likes of which nobody in all of Dill is ever like to see in their lifetime. The three ex-volunteers rushed back from the path to look upon the shining contents before another bolt from Rizaks finger closed the lid shut with a loud snap and the lock could be heard engaging.
“That’s serious coinage,” Hangmar says.
“Your too right Mr. Woodcutter. Split evenly among yourselves you’d each have enough to purchase the entire village and surrounding lands and institute your own barony if you were so inclined. My needs are real and pressing as is my reward.”
The three of them no longer looked at each other to commune in decision but each set about preparation by their self centered volition. Hangmar took a stone from his pocket and began sharpening his axe, Seems takes the crossbow from his back and starts to cock the string. Grilly approaches a smiling Rizak and says, “whats this about weapons?”
By the time everyone was ready and facing the door of the tower Grilly holds a massive two handed mace and well liquored from longs swigs from her cask. Young Gendy has been outfitted with a small wooden shield and a short sword. Hangmar and Seems are both at the ready with the equipment they came with although Seems took a few of Rizaks potions which he said might come in handy.
“Aren’t you coming wizard?” Hangmar bellows over his shoulder.
“I think the lot of you will prove more than competent for the task. I am still weak from my ordeal and besides someone has to remain out here to guard your reward and these other valuables which might prove dangerous in the wrong hands.”
“If you say so,” Hangmar says. “We are ready.”
Rizak waves his hands to and fro forming intricate designs in the air focused on the door. The metal braces on the door glow a light blue before dissipating and the locking mechanism of the door can be heard to adjust. Hangmar uses the butt of his axe to push the door inward and the four of them rush inside screaming triumphant war cries. The door closes behind them and Rizak takes a seat on the barrel as before clapping as his pet imp dances and flips with that magnanimous smile.
©2016 P.E.W Peter Bardo